"My Shame: A Lebanese in Madagascar"

Share Find us on Twitter Find us on Facebook Find us on ... Share this via email
Jan 5 2012

Encounters between migrants and citizens are generally presented as those between migrants and civil society organizations, or between migrants and their employers, sponsors, or government officials. Joey Ayoub shares the unique perspective he held as a Lebanese in Madagascar - as a citizen from a nation with widely documented cases of migrant abuse and neglect, in a country that many migrants call home.

Below are excerpts from Joey's experiences. See his full post here.

I’d like to share a story that’s not really easy to tell and which has something to do with what Sari wrote in the previous post. Not surprisingly since I can’t seem to shut up about it, most of my friends know that I spent 2 months in Madagascar last summer.

[...]

Androka and Antsikoroke – a village closer to Ambohibola – were part of the villages that have seen women leave to work in Lebanon and I had the fortune, or rather misfortune, to find out that two of these women are now missing. The Androka woman was supposed to return home 3 years ago and the Antsikoroke woman was supposed to return home 12 years ago. Shocked yet? Let me continue, the Androka woman stopped sending money home at one point for no known reason and the Antsikoroke never even contacted her family. Now you might think I’m jumping to conclusions here by claiming that both women are probably enslaved or dead but what if I told you that 17 Malagasy maids died in Lebanon last year? What if I told you that foreign domestic workers are not covered by Lebanon’s labor laws?

We are basically telling them that they may be miserable enough to leave their country in search of money to feed their families and come to ours only to expect to be treated as sub-humans.

Back to Madagascar. It took me a few seconds to hit rock bottom when I was talking to an elderly man in Androka. He was the woman’s grandfather and he stopped talking when I told him where I’m from. He couldn’t look me in the eyes. He lowered his head and went back inside his house. Mr Cheban, our translator, didn’t know what to say as I stood there blank-faced. He tried to comfort me – we talked about women coming to Lebanon as maids the day before – but couldn’t find the words. I repeat, HE tried to comfort ME. It was my fellow citizens who have caused this suffering, and it was one of that woman’s fellow citizens who was trying to comfort me. I uttered no more words that day.

[...]

I couldn’t describe the feeling of shame and disgust that I had felt at that moment towards my so-called fellow citizens of Lebanon. I know we Lebanese are used to complaining about everything. We even have “neswen el 7ay” (women of the neighborhood) who do it on a daily basis. But that was different. I wasn’t even complaining. I simply did not know what to say. I couldn’t justify it in any way, I was simply part of a gigantic crime that involves a few millions of people. The situation that foreign workers have to endure in Lebanon may be better in some cases than the slaves of Dubai – I’ve had the opportunity to see them as well – who are left with cleaning the floor behind the rich shoppers and driving them around, but we can simply give no excuses.

[...]

I’ll leave you with a relatively happy thought:

I can’t describe how warm I felt when I was around these people. I know that my fellow volunteer, roommate and good friend Eirik from Norway could back me up on this. We spent hours talking about how unusually secure and comfortable we were around these people. Despite barely speaking more than a few sentences in each other’s native languages, we were still able to bond quite well. I left that place with warm goodbyes and “come back soon” wishes and I sure as hell plan on going back. The differences that every culture exhibits is dwarfed by the universal similarities that we all share despite how convinced we are of the uniqueness of our own culture. The pathetic titles we give to each other all serve social roles and have no actual substances independent of context. The reason why Malagasy, Sri Lankas, Ethiopians, Filipinos and others come to Lebanon for work is simply because they don’t have enough cash in their pockets. That’s it. You have nothing whatsoever that makes you more special. You’re simply luckier. You got the easier role within our globalized world. Give it some thought and stop believing that sad lie that you were somehow chosen.

Click here to continue reading Joey's piece.

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East